ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Wednesday indicted Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) founder Imran Khan and former information minister Fawad Chaudhry in the contempt of the commission and its head cases, in the absence of their main lawyers.

A four-member bench, headed by member from Sindh Nisar Ahmed Durrani charge-sheeted the two during the first-ever trial in a prison by the ECP.

The development coincided with the last date for filing appeals against rejection or acceptance of nomination papers for general seats of the national and provincial assemblies for upcoming general polls. The charge sheet was read out and its copies were given to the alleged contemnors.

PTI lawyer Intazar Hussain Panjutha posted on his X account that Imran was indicted in the absence of his lawyers. “No one has seen such a controversial election commission in the history of Pakistan,” he said. Both individuals, however, vehemently denied the charges levelled against them. Imran Khan accused the ECP members of bias, alleging a lack of impartiality in the proceedings.

After the indictment of the two, the hearing was adjourned till January 16. The charge sheet accuses the PTI founder and former minister of launching a contemptuous campaign against the ECP under a plan in 2022. The charge sheet stated the accused committed contempt against ECP under the Elections Act, 2017 and the electoral body has the jurisdiction to take action against the accused as per SC observation.

According to the notices issued to Mr Khan, he used contemptuous and intemperate language against the ECP in his speeches, pressers and statements on May 11, May 16, June 29, July 19, July 20 and August 7 and made defamatory statements and made baseless allegations which were broadcast live on the main TV channels.

Mr Chaudhry also faced similar kind of charges.

The PTI’s counsel requested the ECP to not carry on with the indictment in the absence of the head of the party’s legal team, Shoaib Shaheen, who was busy at the Supreme Court (SC). He also pleaded against the jail trial. However, the electoral body dismissed both requests of the PTI’s lawyer. The indictment had earlier been deferred twice.

Informed sources told Dawn that former prime minister Imran Khan during the proceedings grilled the ECP over its failure to meet constitutional requirements. “You have scales in your hands. Are you doing justice with it”, he was quoted as saying. Mr Khan also complained the arrest and detention of around 900 leaders and workers of his party. “The way the elections are being held warrant invocation of Article 6 against you,” he told the ECP bench.

He also objected to the presence of a member on the bench against whom a reference had been filed by him. “Is it in line with demands of justice?” he asked.

Mr Chaudhry also asked the ECP to put its house in order. He said after tendering verbal apology, he had been asked to submit a written apology, which he did. He said while in prison, he came to know that had been rejected. He had also recently filed an application in the commission for open hearing of the case.

Later, his counsel Faisal Farid told Dawn that the ECP had never conducted jail trials, and that too in a petty affair like contempt. He vowed to adopt all legal means against the “illegal trial”. He regretted that the ECP was in a hurry to sentence Imran Khan.

Speaking to reporters outside Adiala jail, Advocate Ali Bukhari announced that the PTI would challenge the indictment in the high court.

Mr Chaudhry’s wife, Hiba Fawad, said that during the hearing the former PTI leader said there was an existing reference against one of the members of the electoral body and that he could not be a part of the hearing. “But he was still a member of the bench,” she said.

Published in Dawn, January 4th, 2024

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